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What’s the Difference? Coconut Milk vs. Coconut Cream vs. Coconut Water

Stocking your pantry to make Thai curry?  Do you know the differences between coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut water and cream of coconut?


Learn more about the different types stocked in the Asian Supper kitchen. 

coconut milkCoconut milk is produced by pureeing a mixture of coconut meat and water, then straining it to remove some of the fat.  Twenty years ago in rural areas of Thailand and Laos, coconut milk was handmade daily by seeping coconut meat and hot water for 15 minutes, then extracting the “coconut milk” by squeezing it.  For those of you who buy the light coconut milk, it means that the coconut milk is strained a second time producing a lower fat content.  Also, AsianSupper does  not recommend "light coconut milk" because sometimes it is thickened with flour and has little flavor. Thinning a good-quality coconut milk with water or cooking liquid (e.g., chicken broth) will result in a much tastier dish.  Coconut milk is what you should be buying to make Thai curries or Asian desserts.  

coconut creamCoconut Cream has a higher ratio of coconut to water content.  If you don’t shake your coconut milk before opening the can, there are two layers.  The top thick white layer is actually coconut cream.  The bottom layer of gray/whitish watery liquid is coconut water. Today, you can actually buy coconut cream solely by itself. Coconut cream is also suitable for making curries and desserts.


coconut waterCoconut water is the liquid in a young coconut when you first crack it open. This is what you are drinking when you buy Zico Coconut Water or Vita Coconut Water.  Coconut water has gained popularity in the US over the past two years because of its many benefits - more potassium than a banana to prevent cramping; it is fat free, low in calories and great for rehydration. Coconut water is suitable for a standalone beverage.  

cream of coconutCream of coconut is a delicious cream made from coconuts and blended with cane sugar. It is ideal for tropical drinks and desserts. You'll find this in the cocktail aisle.  A brand of cream of coconut is Coco Lopez Cream Coconut. Many people use cream of coconut to make Pina Coladas, Coco Loco and Jamaican Bahama Mama.



Bottom Line:

  • You can substitute coconut milk for coconut cream.
  • You can substitute coconut cream for coconut milk.  It will be slightly less rich tasting and have less fat content.
  • You can make your own low-fat version of coconut milk by adding water or broth to decrease the fat content, but keep the flavor content.
  • You do not want to drink coconut milk or coconut cream by itself.  Only coconut water should be drunk alone.  There are no substitutions for coconut water.  
  • Cream of coconut should be used in mixed drinks like virgin pina coladas or alcoholic drinks.  You can make your own cream of coconut by mixing equal parts coconut cream and sugar.

Recipes using coconut milk:

What types of coconut liquids are in your pantry? How do you use them?

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